By Andrew Greess
Photo Courtesy Of Andrew Greess
Many parks and recreation professionals use some type of manual backpack sprayer for weed control, fertilization, watering, etc. To ensure maintenance crews are getting the maximum results and value from a backpack, here are some suggestions to optimize your investment:
Start With The Proper Equipment
Select a quality product that can stand up to long hours, harsh chemicals, and rough treatment. Pay particular attention to the spray wand and the pump mechanism.
The best spray wands are made of brass, which is more durable than plastic. The spray wand should be “re-buildable” so it doesn’t have to be discarded when there is a problem.
A backpack that allows the use of readily available industry-standard tips is preferred. The backpack can then be used for multiple purposes, products, and applications. Standard tips are usually cheaper than product-specific tips, so they will save money as well.
The pump mechanism should be easily accessible for cleaning and maintenance. If it is difficult to service the pump, a pile of backpacks will accumulate in the corner until someone throws them away.
The backpack’s filter must also be easily accessible to check and clean. A clogged filter causes downtime, leading to damage and repair expenses. There is one backpack brand that houses the filter inside the chemical tank, so if the filter clogs, the technician has to stick his or her hand into a tank full of chemicals to retrieve the filter. This is not recommended!
It is critical to make sure repair and replacement parts are available. If a sprayer can’t be fixed, it is essentially a disposable item and a waste of money.
Train Technicians In Correct Operating Procedures
Check it out. Have technicians do a quick check of equipment before leaving the shop. This can be as simple as a quick visual inspection, then pressurizing the unit and giving it a quick spray to ensure proper operation. Those who don’t want to discharge the product should have techs team up and spray into each other’s sprayers.
Clean the filter. Make sure technicians clean the filter frequently. Many technicians do not even know where the backpack filter is located, so training is required.
Take it easy. Do not over-pressurize sprayers; this causes parts to fail with increased repair expenses. If a backpack isn't spraying, don't pump it more--it will break. It is easy to turn a simple O-ring replacement into a major repair.
Release the pressure for longer equipment life and fewer problems. Certainly the pressure should be released at the end of the day, and optimally at the end of each stop. Leaving a sprayer under pressure for extended periods reduces the life of the components, such as hoses, gaskets, O-rings, etc. This also reduces the risk of wands bursting in freezing temperatures.
Don’t use the spray wand as a crowbar. Spray wands and tips are not to be used to open gates or to move trash and debris. They also should not be dragged on the ground or otherwise used inappropriately.
Follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning tips. This usually includes using a soft bristle brush and mild cleaner. Wire brushes, pins, and pocket knives will destroy tips.
Do not expose a sprayer to freezing temperatures--this will cost money. Spray technicians in moderate climates--where freezing is not a regular occurrence--need to be sensitive to this issue.
Keep it clean. Chemicals and debris build up in sprayers, which will eventually cause problems. Rinse sprayers, hoses, wands, and tips with clean water. You may be surprised at what you find in the unit. Aside from chemical buildup, the most common items found are labels and caps from herbicide bottles.
Report it. Make sure technicians are comfortable reporting problems. Too many times techs continue working with equipment that needs service. Instead of asking for help, they push the equipment past the breaking point, turning a small repair into a major rebuild.
Replace the tips. One study reported that brass tips wear out at about 10 percent per year. This means that every year a tip is putting out 10-percent more product than it was the previous year. New tips are cheaper than a 10-percent increase in product cost.
Preventative Maintenance = Money In The Bank
Don’t wait for a sprayer to fail, thus leading to downtime. Perform the required preventative maintenance. This usually involves:
- A tear-down
- Thoroughly cleaning of the tank and all parts
- Replacement of O-rings, gaskets, and worn parts
- Lubrication of moving parts.
Observe employees. Despite the best training, technicians don’t always follow parks and recreation department procedures. Supervisors should conduct ride-alongs to observe employees using equipment in the field. Conduct truck inspections to ensure equipment is properly maintained.
Store equipment properly. Make sure there is a secure place for sprayers on the trucks. They are often damaged from bouncing around, being stepped on, or damaged by other equipment.
Provide occasional training . Just because techs are trained on their first day doesn’t mean they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Provide periodic reinforcement training to emphasize good practices.
Keep track of parts. Track equipment failures to see which parts are failing, which replacement parts need to be stocked, or which equipment is not appropriate for a service program. Track these failures by technician in order to identify training opportunities.
A backpack sprayer is critical to a department’s success. Invest the time to train employees, and properly maintain equipment. Follow up to ensure the task is completed. This will keep employees productive and on schedule, and repair expenses to a minimum.
Andrew Greess is the President of Quality Equipment & Spray, which designs and builds custom landscape spray equipment. He can be reached at www.qspray.com, or follow him on Facebook. For more information or to share your thoughts, check out his blog at www.sprayequipmentblog.com .